NIGHT TRAVELER

[Prologue]

~a~b~c~d~e~f~g~h~i~j~k~l~m~n~o~p~q~r~s~t~u~v~w~x~y~z~


GMT +09:00, Tokyo, 09:55 p.m

"It's time."

Mentally commanding herself while glancing at her wristwatch, the blonde carefully settled her glass down on the wooden dinner table, cautious not to make an unnecessary sound, and gathered up her belongings to leave without a trace.

There was not even that much to clean up to begin with. She had always packed light, and this time accompanying her in the continued journey there was only a purse large enough to contain a two-month-old golden retriever puppy.

Not that she had a habit of carrying dogs around in her purse, anyway.

_Sleep tight, dear.

She lightly brushed her roommate's copper hair as the girl stirred in her sleep. An empty glass was left forgotten on the carpeted floor, presumably it had fallen from the girl's hands as she fell asleep mid-drink; which the blonde picked up and placed over a newly written note on the table. They had only lived together for a while, yet she already found herself attached to the girl because of her cutting-edge honesty, a quality rarer than diamonds in their shared world of constant deceit.

"A girl like her shouldn't be here," the blonde thought to herself as she took her purse and headed for the main door.

Half an hour later, the copper-haired girl woke up to an empty room and a note sitting neatly on her dinner table, her blonde roommate nowhere in sight. Curious and worried, she removed the glass from its position atop the piece of paper, only to discover a thick envelope underneath it all.

"Copper-chan,

By the time you read this, I'm already off on my way. I have businesses I have to attend to, people I can't afford to miss out on, issues I have to deal with personally.

I'm sorry for leaving without saying a proper goodbye (and for putting you to sleep, in case you haven't noticed). I never told you this – the only thing I ever said about you was that you were annoyingly but refreshingly honest – but I'm glad I've had the opportunity to meet you. You're one of those people I'm actually glad having run into.

A few weeks ago you asked me how I would know if it came time for me to actually do something good with my life. I still don't have that answer for myself. But for you, take this advice: leave. This is not your world. I know you resent your stepfather, but don't make the mistake I've made – the very mistake that brought us together as friends.

Ironic, isn't it? But I'm in no position to lecture you. I'm not, just for the record. I'm pleading – yes, you read that right – pleading with you to leave this cruel underworld. You don't belong here. Running away doesn't help, Copper. Face your problems head-on – and survive the encounter with it.

From someone who failed to face her problems once and has fallen too deep.

PS: Don't worry about whatever you find in that envelope. I don't care about them. I care more about you being happy, and living the life you deserve."

The girl dropped the letter, and it took her a while to open the envelope with still-shaking hands. As expected, it contained hard cash.

_Thank you... Minako.


GMT +09:00, Tokyo, 10:00 p.m

Leaning against a post in the empty parking lot, the blonde stole yet another slightly annoyed glance at her wristwatch.

The taxi was later than she requested. She had left the rooming house a little later than she planned to do, mainly because she wanted to make sure nothing was left behind that could identify her as a person. In her line of work, anonymity is the name of the game.

She had expected a waiting driver, yet she arrived to the designated spot finding herself alone.


GMT +09:00, Tokyo, 10:02 p.m

He had known of her good looks from multiple sources, ranging from enchanted customers who spent hours describing a hour-glass figure while drooling rather unconsciously, to bewildered colleagues of his who had absolutely no idea how she managed to slip out of their fingers without a trace; nor were the latter able to explain the mysterious, unmistakably feminine scent that lingered in any space they stood in, whether during or long, long after their report was delivered. As he was speeding on his way toward the destination, silently cursing his watch for choosing such a great time to die, words streamed through his mind about her various areas of specialties and the counter-move for each and every one of them.

No way I'm running more than ten minutes behind schedule, - he commanded himself, accelerating.

Three minutes later, he pulled into the almost empty parking lot, already spotting a blonde standing all by herself at the other end, near the back entrance to a city-famous restaurant, mostly for its seaside view. Even though it was a windy summer night, she was sporting a short-sleeve yellow blouse with silver strips, a pair of dark khaki, a violet-shaded scarf flowing on her shoulders, making perfect background for her golden hair. As he came closer, the general description "good looks" of hers occurred to him as less than an understatement. She had an elegant, aloof and almost regal appearance, topping up by a sparkling crown-shaped bobby pin on the left side of her head.

He stepped off the vehicle, holding the door open for her in an apologetic gesture. He was five minutes late.

And she pointed that out for him before the standard apology could reach his lips:

_You're five minutes late, - she allowed him a brief glance at her watch, her eyes cold. I remember having specified that the taxi should pick me up exactly at ten o' clock tonight.

_My sincerest apology, miss.

He nodded curtly, taking note that her watch was a Cortébert digital, the production of which had – should have – officially ceased back in the 70s. If his assessment was right – he was never the watch expert – that was one hell of a well-maintained antiquity.

She shrugged:

_No need to. No one can be punctual all his life. He himself may strive to be, but his clock may die whenever it feels like.

"That's a pretty good guess", he thought, smiling absent-mindedly and closing the door after making sure she had got seated properly. She indeed seemed friendly enough, but what he had read from the stacks of reports on his desk still reminded him of how disastrous a brief encounter with her, especially her before retirement, could turn out to be. Still, he hoped this tiny chance could be the start of a decent conversation.

Where could I possibly have seen him before?, a concern flashed through her mind. That gentle smile looked familiar.

She had wanted to dismiss it as silly, for how many airlines she had used, how many parties she had been escorted to, how many hotels she had stayed at, to date, she could not even remember. A taxi driver could easily fit in that mist.

Still, there was something not quite right about this particular one.

Thus the ride proceeded in silence. Regretting not having made a conversational attempt right at her joke, and stumbling on the question of which approach would be the best, he decided to make up for his late arrival by speeding and succeeded in getting her to her destination five minutes before the estimate time. She looked a bit surprised, and the tip was more generous than his usual fifteen percent standard; which could be a habit as well, he thought in retrospect. Taking one last glance at the outrageously marvelous hotel, he pulled out of the driveway, heading to a nearby location where many yellow cabs as his concentrated.

He took out a black device and a pair of earphones, plugging them into his ears. A prolonged beep! informed him that it was ready and functioning.

_Sir, - he spoke directly into thin air – I'm afraid I do not have good enough news to deliver.

_Proceed anyway.

He detailed his silent ride.

_Well well well, - the familiarly sarcastic voice chimed in – seems like our guy needs his social skills updated.

_And our genius needs the deafening sound of this device silenced – he continued unfazed, noticing a ruff voice in the background saying "Zoicite, mind your own business" and succeeding sounds of the usual verbal battle – Sir, what should my next move be?

_If the target is more likely to forget who you are, let her be. I'd arrange for you to be reassigned another time.

_Roger that, sir.

They both hung up. But the sound of his chief's words, target, lingered in his mind. Somehow he did not like it this time, although generally he preferred how his superior had always referred to the VIP in their plan as targets. The more impersonal the operation would be, the better.


Back at the five-star hotel.

The doorbell rang. The door opened, revealing a man in his bathrobe with an eager expression, his welcoming hand extended toward the blonde.

The door closed without a sound behind them.

_I always love the way you dress, Mina-chan, - he breathed, resting his chin on her left shoulder. You always look so different from the rest of them, don't you?

The blonde winked back:

_I love standing out.

_Sure you do, - he stepped ahead, pointing toward the nearby armchair, where a blood red gown lay.

_Oh, you noticed? - she laughed flirtatiously.

_Notice that you're different? Sure I do.

_No, that you yourself have a secretary complex, - she continued, gesturing toward her office blouse.

_What can I say? It's my job after all – he laughed along, opening his arms.

_Turn around, - she winked – don't ruin my little surprise for you.

_Oh? - the man laughed almost vulgarly, but complied.

The blonde raised her hand, a metallic device sparked on the tip of her fingers.


Fifteen minutes later, on the hotel's rooftop.

Having already accomplished her assigned task, the blonde lady was waiting for another, less ordinary ride to appear out of the midnight starry sky. She thought over the scene she had left behind, in that royal-style bedroom the naïve client had re-booked at her request. All was neat – no clue whatsoever could be traced to her real intention in appearing there, she was sure of it. At most, local authorities would merely attribute the case, like any other, to a high-profile recreational service gone wrong. And her client, being high-profile himself, would be far too embarrassed – terrified, even, if he discovered what she had done while he passed out from the impact of her sedative needle, in addition to messing up his belongings – to ever speak out.

The roaring sound of engines hovering above brought her back to reality, and she took hold of the helicopter rescue ladder, climbing her way to secrecy skillfully as if she had been subject to such unfeminine operations for a long time. As the saying went, practice made perfect.

_How was it?

The main pilot asked without turning around.

_Like a piece of cake, - she laughed softly, the first relief she had allowed herself in an entire day.

_You did not get the wrong file like you did last time, did you? This was sudden, I can't believe we didn't have time for a plan... I was so... - the co-pilot piped up, anxiety in her voice.

_No worries, it was a clean job – the blonde smiled. And... - she added - that last time was a century ago, - the blonde sighed dramatically, but her performance was cut off by her critic:

_It was three months, one week and two days ago, actually.

_Boy, I hate your flawless memories, - the former complained, snatching a water bottle from behind her own seat.

_Oh, by the way, - she added, putting the bottle back to its place – do we still have that signature bubble bath gel left?

_You mean the one from The Body Shop? - her critic answered – Half of it, but why?

_I need some major cleaning, - the blonde sighed. That fool landed his chin on my shoulder; I need that disgusting scent off me as soon as possible.

_It's more like cologne, though – her critic countered.

_Yeah, but his using it means it's already a stained brand – the blonde shook her head again in a melodramatic manner. You're turning into a workaholic, Ami-chan, testing perfume even on duty? How many times do we have to tell you that you're already a walking encyclopedia without your ability to distinguish strange scents?

The main pilot burst out laughing, they all could feel the co-pilot's face literally heating up as she explained:

_Er, old habits die hard I guess.

_Well, sounds like you need some refreshments – the blonde commented. How fitting; I happen to have a favor to ask, how about repaying you by a shopping trip? My treat.

_Spare me, - Ami sighed – I haven't quite recovered from the bikini frenzy last time.

_That's called trying them on, Ami-chan, I spelt it F.U.N., remember?

_Not to me – Ami mumbled.

_Oh, I'm getting a free deal then – the blonde laughed.

_Mina-chan!

The main pilot chuckled to herself, At least she acquired what we needed - she thought while monitoring the helicopter. Their five-member group works most efficiently with a mixed sense of responsibility and light-hearted humor. Perhaps that was why they were summoned upon this particular case.

~a~b~c~d~e~f~h~i~j~k~l~m~n~o~p~q~r~s~t~u~v~w~y~z~


A/N: Everyone, long time no see, eh? I've been overwhelmed recently, but I'm glad now my writer's block is almost over.

Anyway, this is the edited version of my old story, "Operation Mix". Enjoy!

Until my next update,

Chrys.